Sam Ryder – ‘There’s Nothing But Space, Man!’ review: the year’s feel-good breakthrough act

The Essex-born musician's stellar Eurovision appearance earned him a place in the nation's heart. An overly earnest debut album ought to keep him there

Essex-born singer-songwriter Sam Ryder became a low-key national hero when he nearly won Eurovision in May. In a way, his second place finish behind Ukraine – the overwhelming sentimental favourites for obvious reasons – was the perfect outcome for an artist whose fundamental niceness charmed voters all over the continent; he was a perfect ambassador – kind, talented, sensible – when Britain’s image projected anything but. Of course, the 33-year-old’s other secret weapon was the glorious voice that made his Elton-ish Eurovision hit ‘Space Man’ really soar. When Ryder sang ‘Somebody To Love’ with Queen at September’s Taylor Hawkins tribute concert, Dave Grohl introduced him (accurately) as “the most amazing vocalist”.

Ryder’s voice – capable of being gritty in its lower register and recalling Freddie Mercury at its high end – is what makes this debut album pop. Featuring songs written with Ed Sheeran co-writer Amy Wadge, Sam Smith collaborator Jimmy Napes and Rag’n’Bone Man associate Jamie Hartman, it’s a collection of consistently melodic and mostly mid-tempo pop-rock songs. Ryder sounds terrific whether he’s delivering a fist-pumping anthem (‘Tiny Riot’), a stripped-back ballad (‘Whirlwind’) or a soulful stomper with a Brian May-style guitar solo (‘Two Tons’). When he cranks up the tempo for ‘Put A Light On Me’, a new wave banger in the vein of Sheeran’s ‘Bad Habits’, it’s completely infectious as well. He also sells ‘Living Without You’, a club-ready collab with David Guetta and Sigala, though it’s probably telling that this musical red herring appears slapped on right at the end of the album.

Ryder’s lyrics aim for broad-brush relatability, which can mean they slip into cliché. ‘Ten Tons’ is an utterly sincere celebration of human perseverance, but Ryder won’t make anyone rethink their worldview with lines like “life is a series of joys and heartaches” and “life is a storm that we all face”. However, he displays a bit more edge on ‘This Time’, a bouncy cut about not getting too big for your boots. “That dry champagne can live a bitter taste,” he sings, “when you’re back in your college digs eating macaroni off a paper plate.” It’s a reminder that Ryder really put in the grind as a wedding singer, busker and even vegan café owner before he joined TikTok and caught the ear of the UK’s Eurovision gatekeepers; this is no overnight success story.

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But the odd well-intentioned platitude hardly spoils an album of killer choruses on which Ryder’s infectious likeability shines through at all times. Next time he might want to chuck in a few more curveballs, but for now, ‘There’s Nothing But Space, Man!’ sounds like the beginning of what could be a really stellar career.

Details

Sam Ryder

  • Release date: December 9, 2022
  • Record label: Parlophone
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